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Wildfire cameras for Mount Hood by helicopter

Wildfire cameras for Mount Hood by helicopter

Kenwood Ranch is underwriting more fire watch cameras for Mayacamas-Sugarloaf area

By Jay Gamel

Sometime at the end of August, helicopters will begin hovering around Mount Hood, hoisting surveillance cameras that will be used to monitor wildfires throughout the area and help triangulate and pinpoint smoke origins far more accurately than now possible. The cameras are being underwritten by Kenwood Ranch, the new entity developing the long-dormant luxury resort originally approved for the base of the mountain in the 1980s. The resort property will be home to six cameras, and perhaps more.

Chuck Connor, project manager for the renewed development effort, says Kenwood Ranch has partnered with Dr. Neal Driscoll, co-director of the ALERTWildfire monitoring program based at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

“Connecting the Kenwood Ranch cameras to the ALERTWildfire network is a tremendous asset for Kenwood, Oakmont, and Sonoma Valley as a whole,” Driscoll said. The entire project is a collaboration by the University of Oregon, University of Nevada, Reno, and UCSD.

Images from the round-theclock surveillance cameras will be available to firefighters, agencies, and first responders to discover, pinpoint, and monitor fire behavior and postfire watchfulness.

The initial three cameras will be placed on resort property, Connor said, and all will become part of the North Bay segment of ALERTWildfire. The camera feeds may be seen anytime at www.alertwildfire. org/northbay/index.html?v=81e002f after they are installed. Right now, local views from Bald Mountain on the Napa side of Sugarloaf Park and Sugarloaf Ridge are viewable, along with dozens more throughout the Bay Area.

More cameras will allow for triangulation, a basic geometrical method for determining location accurately, Connor said. “There’s a dearth of cameras in the Sonoma Valley area. These will provide maximum coverage and peek over into Napa County where historically these big wildfires have started.”

The cameras will be solar-powered and not dependent on the electrical grid, Connor said. He also characterized the installations as temporary, but said, “These are permanent in that we will always keep them running, but ‘temporary’ in the sense that we can lower them into place and not have to build a concrete pad or roadway for access.”

Installation will be a combination of air and ground work, with one or two people descending to the ground to make sure the installation is right. “It’s the lightest impact we can do.”

It’s a win-win for Kenwood Ranch.

“The priority for us is to create a ranch that will be ecologically sound, sustainable, and, to the extent possible, will minimize future wildfire risks to the property and to the surrounding communities,” Connor said.

Vern Losh, fire safety management consultant for Kenwood Ranch is enthusiastic about the project.

“As we examined the burn pattern of the 2020 Glass Fire and looked at strategies for how the Kenwood Ranch property recovers, it became clear the Kenwood Ranch has a strategic location in Sonoma Valley to provide benefits of early fire confirmation and increased fire safety for the surrounding communities of Kenwood and Oakmont.”

Connor has already made Kenwood Ranch property available to fire departments in Sonoma Valley to use for training. Kenwood, Petaluma, Sonoma Valley Fire and other fire departments used the property for chain-saw training in June and early July, an effort that worked for everyone.

Sam Wallis, community alert & warning Manager for Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management, is also enthusiastic about adding more cameras to those already there.

“The county hopes this ongoing partnership with The Kenwood Ranch and ALERTWildfire can identify other high-altitude camera locations in Sonoma Valley where fire cameras could be installed to maximize full camera coverage of Sonoma Valley’s highaltitude mountains,” Wallis said. He is also looking for additional areas to plant cameras and develop an additional tower on Mount Hood at a higher location than the ranch cameras.

Other property owners along the Mayacamas are urged to consider adding a camera to the system.

“The more cameras the better,” Kenwood Fire Chief Darren Bellach said. Bellach said much work is currently underway to improve wildfire surveillance technology and developing more stable cameras (high winds make steady pictures difficult, which are necessary for accurate locating).